Vitamin D (also referred to as “calciferol”) is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in a few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. It is also produced endogenously when ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis.
Vitamin D must undergo two hydroxylations in the body for activation. The first hydroxylation, which occurs in the liver, converts vitamin D to 25-hydroxyvitamin D [25(OH)D], also known as “calcidiol.” The second hydroxylation occurs primarily in the kidney and forms the physiologically active 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D [1,25(OH)2D], also known as “calcitriol”.
Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption in the gut and maintains adequate serum calcium and phosphate concentrations to enable normal bone mineralization and to prevent hypocalcemic tetany (involuntary contraction of muscles, leading to cramps and spasms). It is also needed for bone growth and bone remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts. Without sufficient vitamin D, bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D sufficiency prevents rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Together with calcium, vitamin D also helps protect older adults from osteoporosis.
Vitamin D has other roles in the body, including reduction of inflammation as well as modulation of such processes as cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and glucose metabolism. Many genes encoding proteins that regulate cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis are modulated in part by vitamin D. Many tissues have vitamin D receptors, and some convert 25(OH)D to 1,25(OH)2D.
Recent randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have shown that vitamin D supplementation can lead to a significant reduction in cancer deaths. Based on 2016 data, one group of scientists estimated that if all Germans over the age of 50 were to take vitamin D supplements, up to 30,000 cancer deaths per year could have possibly been avoided in Germany (which had a population of about 82 million people in 2016). The annual cost of vitamin D3 supplementation is estimated at only $40 per year and would result in a significant savings for costs of healthcare. People don’t get enough vitamin D from the sun, and regular supplementation with vitamin D3 is recommended. Ask our pharmacist which product is best for each member of your family.